|Local scene: Ouissam Mokretar, the French co-founder and a resident DJ of Ha Noi’s clubbing mecca Savage, will perform at Epizode. - Photo courtesy of the oganisers|
by Peter Cowan
Epizode festival returns to Việt Nam for its third year this week, not a moment too soon for the country’s reeling dance music scene.
From December 28 until January 8 on Phú Quốc Island in the southern province of Kiên Giang, the annual festival will once again bring a world-class selection of techno and house DJs to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.
This time though, the festival arrives after a year of tragedy and controversy for Việt Nam’s dance music scene. Epizode press releases have referred to some artists as “DJ heroes”, which is fitting, as the country’s rave scene may need to be rescued.
It’s been a tough year for dance music in Việt Nam.
On September 16, seven youths aged between 18 and 29 years old died after attending the Vietnam Electronic Weekend (VEW) Festival in Hà Nội.
Doctors said the victims tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, ecstasy and marijuana and while the deaths were labelled overdoses, reported overcrowding at the venue could also have been a factor.
The next day, Hà Nội authorities indefinitely suspended all music festivals in the city, a decision which would lead to the internationally-renowned Quest Festival being cancelled. The event’s organisers and festival-goers arrived ready to party at the site on November 23 only to be turned away, with many baffled at what seemed like a last-minute cancellation.
Controversy and confusion around the circumstances of the independent music and arts festival’s cancellation have abounded in the weeks since and the only thing that seems clear is that Việt Nam’s dance music and festival scene took a step back with the loss of Quest.
Luckily for ravers in Việt Nam, Epizode returns this week for an 11-day takeover of the Sunset Sonata Beach Club on the west of the island. With the line-up featuring internationally-acclaimed DJs like Nina Kraviz, Seth Troxler, Ricardo Villalobos and more, there’s no questioning the promoter’s intention to hold world-class performances amid the natural beauty of Phú Quốc.
However, Epizode is run by Moscow-based company Sagrado Corp and has little presence in Việt Nam for most of each year, while despite their flaws and problems, VEW Festival and Quest originated in the country and the latter in particular did a huge deal to advance the country’s underground dance music scene. The question is, can Epizode pick up the baton?
One of Epizode’s co-founders, Mikhail Danilov, has set high expectations for this year’s edition. Though there were about 10,000 attendees last year and more are expected this time, the goal isn’t just to increase in scale.
“Last year our goal was to firmly stamp ourselves, to tell the world that a new festival appeared on the music map of the world. We did it, we were noticed and loved. Now we are ready to bring to our audience what we’ve started last year – to amplify the concept of the festival, what Epizode is,” he explained via email.
|Superstar selectors: Legendary British DJ Carl Cox plays on New Year’s Eve at last year’s Epizode. - Photo courtesy of the oganisers|
That concept is to make the festival become a “gathering point, creative community” for art, music and travel aficionados from across the world. Scaling up the pre-festival tour was a part of efforts to achieve this, with Epizode resident DJs playing alongside local selectors in 18 locations across Asia and Australia including Melbourne, Dubai, Beijing and Hà Nội, as opposed to only three stops on last year’s tour.
Artem Harchenko, Epizode’s general producer and a DJ under the stage name Tyoma, said via email that the tour aimed to create strong links between Epizode and the dance music scene across Asia:
“The main idea is to create stable partnerships with the most relevant regional promoters, clubs, labels, communities. At these events, Epizode residents played alongside local residents, and every party was a success. The goal of Epizode is to be tightly bonded with the regional culture, while displaying the emerging local scene at the same time.”
Harchenko explained the Epizode team see Asia and Việt Nam as an emerging scene and one they’re excited to be part of. “The dance music scene is certainly growing in Việt Nam and the rest of Asia. There are new clubs, organisations, festivals and artists popping up from year to year.”
As for the problems dance music festivals have faced far north of Phú Quốc in Hà Nội, Harchenko said that Epizode has all necessary licences in place, and noted that what happened to Quest wasn’t a unique situation to Việt Nam.
“Similar sorts of situations are possible, not only in Việt Nam, but worldwide as well. The music industry often does not operate in a stable environment, and though it’s always wise to have a contingency plan - unfortunately surprises are possible,” he said.
In terms of growing the dance music scene in Asia, Harchenko said Epizode hoped to be “contributing to development of emerging Asian underground scene” by bringing a range of electronic music genres and top DJs, while also giving regional artists a platform, which he said has been expanded this year.
“We’re hoping that it will expand the horizons, bring new education and inspiration to the local scene, and grow more artists as well as fans,” he said.
Danilov was also unequivocal about his goal to be more than a festival that parachutes in once a year. “We want local talents to become known in the West after Epizode 3, and western stars to discover local audience. We want it to be a link between East and West and help the art communication between them,” he explained.
Godwin Pereira is one the men driving the underground dance music scene in Southeast Asia, and Epizode has his seal of approval.
|Party people: Ricardo Villalobos’ marathon set was a highlight of Epizode last year. He will perform again on January 3. - Photo courtesy of the oganisers|
|Big ambitions: The festival aims to be more than a great party, but a gathering of art, music and travel lovers from across the world. - Photo courtesy of the oganisers|
Having been in the lifestyle and entertainment industry for three decades, mostly in Singapore, the entrepreneur and tastemaker opened Club Kyo in Singapore in 2013 where it ran for four years. Pereira now focuses on the Kyo he opened in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur in 2016, a club which has quickly become one of the city’s go-to nightlife spots.
Pereira said Epizode brings a line-up rarely seen in Asia. “I think they bring great new things to this part of the world, in a fantastic location. There are few like it but Epizode is the most interesting by far,” he explained via email.
“Epizode did a fantastic job of reaching out to all the major club operators in the underground scene. I think they really set a platform for how it should be done. Others have tried in Thailand - 808, Wonderfruit and they have a more organic way of growing. But this one is only in its third year but there is already a real buzz around it. They have reached out to smaller clubs in Asia, and that is completely right,” he said.
Ouissam Mokretar, the French co-founder and a resident DJ of Ha Noi’s clubbing mecca Savage, agrees with Pereira.
“First of all it’s a very good alternative from the EDM festivals who always offer the same line up (same music too), with a festival like Epizode in Việt Nam locals can discover so many good new upcoming artists but also good way to perform, Min8 (Vietnamese born in Hà Nội), for example, resident DJ at Savage who could play in front of a crowd coming from all over.”
Here to stay
Last year, the scale and quality of Epizode’s line-up was a game changer for the dance music scene in Southeast Asia and Việt Nam. While back then the country had never seen anything like it, it may not be too long before such events are the norm.
As Việt Nam develops, demand for festivals like Epizode will only grow, as young middle-class people have more disposable income.
Perhaps the best indicator that Epizode aims to bring the scene in this country forward is the fact the organisers feel the festival has a home on Phú Quốc, and they’re not going anywhere.
“We’re hoping to continue this great collaboration, bring even more top-notch music and art, in many years to come,” said Danilov. — VNS